Sean SpeerThe first year of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s term in office has seen the federal Liberals adopt a goodly number of policy recommendations made by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. With the government consulting on a huge number of files in 2017, policy-makers in Ottawa could benefit in the coming year from the expertise MLI has to offer.

By Sean Speer, Dec. 14, 2016

The one-year anniversary of the Trudeau government’s first Speech from the Throne recently passed, marking a major milestone in its four-year mandate. Time can sure fly when one is busy consulting, as Marni Soupcoff relates in her new essay. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) has been there every step of the way.

Last year’s Throne Speech conveyed a high level of ambition on a wide range of files including (but not limited to) retirement income, health care, Aboriginal economic and social development, innovation, terrorism, Canada-US relations, and climate change. As the speech put it: “The agenda outlined today is an ambitious one.” This was not going to be an inactive government.

MLI sought to match the government’s propensity for action and ambition by releasing a weekly commentary series on each of its priorities beginning the week of the Throne Speech and ending in the days after the March budget. Our Mandate for Change series comprised 14 essays, 12 authors, and more than 50 recommendations to help Ottawa achieve its goals of a growing economy, rising living standards and greater opportunity, a greener environment, and a new defence and security agenda.

The series was written in the spirit of offering constructive, evidence-based recommendations for “real change”. These commentaries did not quarrel with the government’s mandate or objectives. The goal was to help translate these aspirations into a concrete and effective governing agenda.

March’s budget was the first opportunity to see some of our recommendations reflected in government policy. Examples include:

  • Focusing on asset management plans at the local level to help ensure that public infrastructure spending is rational and productive;
  • Restoring Parliament’s responsibility for approving government borrowing to improve the functioning of our democracy;
  • New resources for basic infrastructure and early childhood learning in Indigenous communities to support Aboriginal opportunity;
  • Increasing Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement as a targeted policy to help low-income seniors – particularly widows – cover their living costs.

Since then, more of our ideas can be found in government policy including:

  • Placing an emphasis on private sponsorship in its refugee settlement policy;
  • Expanding the Working Income Tax Benefit to reduce work disincentives for low-income Canadians;
  • Revisiting the government’s plan to fully adopt the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and instead focusing on building on the current legal framework to bolster Aboriginal opportunity;
  • Maintaining the previous government’s changes to the Canada Health Transfer and calling for “structural reform” to improve the Canadian health-care system.

These are positive steps in the direction of good public policy, but of course there is plenty of work left to do. Large parts of the government’s agenda – including its Innovation Agenda, defence and national security reforms, and supporting Aboriginal opportunity – remain works in progress. And others – including balancing the budget, supporting affordable and responsible homeownership for Canada’s middle class, and establishing an evidence-based regulatory process for energy projects – have been moving in the wrong direction and will require a new course.

The expectation is that Ottawa’s agenda will be more ambitious in its second year as its series of consultations conclude and the government is forced to confront a number of challenging files. As Soupcoff points out, the government has been consulting on as many as 83 separate files and issues and MLI’s extensive body of work proffers solutions that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet should consider.

In particular, MLI’s Mandate for Change series will remain a useful resource in this regard especially as the government gets set to move on key files in 2017 including:

  • As Finance Minister Bill Morneau prepares the 2017 budget, he can draw from our recommendation to codify clear fiscal rules to better control spending and guide the government’s return to a balanced budget;
  • As the government builds on its Aboriginal opportunity agenda, it should follow our recommendation to develop policy options to support equity-based participation for Aboriginal communities in major resource projects;
  • Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains’s Innovation Agenda should adopt a new market-based policy with regards to broadband investment and deployment to support innovation and economic opportunity;
  • Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale’s new national security agenda should preserve the RCMP’s “disruption” powers in the government’s eventual national security reforms;
  • The result of the government’s defence policy review should be to ensure the Department of National Defence has adequate resources to deliver on the government’s defence policy;
  • The second phase of the government’s infrastructure program should focus on encouraging more private sector investment and expertise;
  • Future years’ refugee targets should be based on regional and local capacity rather than top-down, political imperatives;
  • The government should exercise federal leadership in eliminating interprovincial trade barriers that stifle economic opportunity;
  • As part of its “inclusive growth” agenda, the government should ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This set of policies would represent significant steps in meeting the government’s overarching objectives as articulated in its Throne Speech. Hopefully, we will witness progress in these areas in 2017.

More generally, as the government continues to study and consult on a range of policy issues in year two of its mandate, MLI will be there to support its efforts to ensure security, prosperity, and opportunity for all Canadians.

Sean Speer is a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

MLI would not exist without the support of its donors. Please consider making a small contribution today.